Families share stories of addiction for overdose awareness
LUMBERTON, N.J. (AP) — Chris Power wanted to be just like his brother Matt, who served in the Marines and started his own company after graduating from college.
The talented musician also wanted to be a better father to his son Carter, and was on the path to becoming a licensed EMT.
“He took that course — it was the first time they ever offered a full-time course (and a) majority of the people were police and firefighters and it was like 8 to 4 every day for seven weeks,” said his dad, John Power, of Lumberton. “He passed that damn course and the proudest moment with him aside from when Carter was born was when he stood on the stage with all those guys and got his certificate.”
But Chris didn’t get the chance to pursue his career because of his struggle with addiction that started at 17 years old and ended at 23 in Florida on June 8, 2016.
“The world’s getting cut short of a lot of talent and a lot of good people because of this problem and Chris was one of them,” John Power said.
Chris Power was one of eight people in Burlington County who died from an overdose in June 2016. During that year, the county lost 96 people to an overdose, according to the New Jersey Attorney’s General Office. In 2017, that number grew to 130, and through mid-August of this year 99 have succumb to addiction.
Chris was one of the thousands remembered on International Overdose Awareness Day Friday, which included two events in Burlington County.
Several nonprofits hosted a vigil at the Burlington County Amphitheater in Westampton. Beginning at 7 p.m., the event featured local speakers, music and a candle lighting ceremony.
The day of observation began in Melbourne, Australia, in 2001 thanks to Sally Finn, who worked for the Salvation Army, to remember lives lost to drug overdoses. Since then, the day has spread across the world, where every Aug. 31 community members, government organizations and nonprofits hold events to raise awareness about addiction and remember those lost.
It’s also a chance to give grieving families a place to go, said Christine Hoff, of Mount Holly. Her niece, Shelby Katilus, of Lumberton, died two days after Chris at the age of 22.
Katilus, a straight-A student who graduated high school early, turned to heroin after being prescribed Xanax for sleep deprivation following the lost of her child to spina bifida, Hoff said.
“She blamed herself and then she just spiraled out of control,” Hoff said.
Hoff and her sister, Shelby’s mother, tried support groups for grieving families, but no one there had lost someone to an overdose.
“I was up late one night and I was just — I was kinda just Googling things,” she said. “I typed in overdose and I came across the international overdose awareness, which started in Australia so I went through their website and I found that there was two events — one in Forked River, and one in Washington Township (Gloucester County). And I was like, you know what, I think I want to go.”
For Hoff, it’s an opportunity to grieve. “The event that I went to in Gloucester County was just seeing so many people and looking around and we’re all there for the same reason,” she said.
After attending, Hoff was inspired last year to start an event in Burlington County through a group she created called “Shouting4Shelby” to bring families together who need support.
“There’s so many hurting families because once your person is gone, that whirlwind, everything stops,” she said. “It just stops.”
Chris’ mother, Donna Power, knows that pain well. She was consumed by constant worry of where her son was while she took care of her grandson Carter and her other children Matt and Lauren before Chris’ death.
“It’s kind of like a club you don’t want to be in, and the members really are the only ones who get it and who understand,” she said.
The events offer families the chance to remember who victims were before their addiction overtook them. For Donna Power, those memories include Chris’ time with his family.
“He tried, he really tried hard,” she said. “His whole goal was to change his life for his son.
“He wanted to be a good father. He wanted to go into the military — he idolized his brother. He was really a very good person, he tried very, very diligently as we did as a family and it was too overwhelming at the end of the day.”
For Hoff, it reminds her of the day her niece survived being born prematurely.
“This was a three-month premature twin who was 2 pounds, 9 ounces, who had a rough start from the beginning, who needed a blood transfusion, who once outside the womb, she thrived, she grew,” Hoff said. “She was comical, she had a sense of humor and a half, she would just come up with any joke. Her personality was through the roof.”
At their event last year, Hoff invited Stephen Kavalkovich, of Evesham, to read Shelby’s story. Kavalkovich was just beginning to share his story of addiction and recovery to help others still struggling.
He returned this year to show how his life has turned around.
Kavalkovich’s podcast, Rescuing the Rescuer on Mental Health Radio Network, is up to 45 episodes and counting. He’s been invited to speak at various events across the country, including one in Knoxville, Tennessee, and another in the Chicago suburbs this month.
“I would have never thought a year ago sitting here in the same room what would happen a year later,” he said.
Almost 500 awareness overdose events were held across the globe last year and even more are planned this year, according to the official website.
For Kavalkovich, attending events allows him to spread hope to those in addiction and families battling every day.
“We’re sick of seeing people dying. We’re sick of seeing the destruction that this thing is doing to our nation, our world,” he said. “I do see a lot of local organizations trying to collaborate with everybody and get everyone involved together.”
For others, the events are a chance to keep their loved ones close and keep their memories alive.
“That’s one of the things that’s so hard about it is the fact that he was so young,” Matt Power said of his brother. “That’s the real kicker about it, because it’s not like he’s lived the entirety of a life and it’s just a natural thing — it’s such an unnatural feeling and an unnatural realization that you kind of come about, even two years later.”
Information from: Burlington County Times (Willingboro, N.J.), http://www.burlingtoncountytimes.com